WASHINGTON - It should be clear by now that Newt Gingrich, despite his denials, was lobbying for Freddie Mac, the home loan giant at the core of the subprime mortgage scandal.
Former governor Mitt Romney leveled that charge at the former House speaker in Monday's Republican debate in Tampa, and independent public interest groups and fact checkers have said Romney is right.
Gingrich and his well-heeled consulting business were paid big money -- at least $1.8 million -- by Freddie Mac, a federally-backed agency, that had to be bailed out by the taxpayers to the tune of more than $52 billion.
At first, Gingrich said he was hired by Freddie Mac as an "historian." But he soon backed off that preposterous defense. How many historians are paid $1.8 million?
Then it gradually became clear that he was doing more for Freddie Mac than his second fall-back story, providing strategic advice as a consultant.
This was a government-sponsored program that was in deep trouble, but Gingrich said he told top Freddie Mac officials at the outset that its business model was "insane." Officials there said that no one who sat in on its meetings with him over an eight year period remember him saying this.
More importantly, it turns out his role was much more than offering advice on how they ran their business. It was to help them gain access to key members of Congress in the House where Gingrich knew all the players in housing policy and the levers to pull to get things done.
On the eve of the Tampa debate, Gingrich's campaign released a portion of the contracts he signed with Freddie Mac. A statement on his campaign web site said that "at no time did Gingrich lobby for Freddie Mac," or "advocate against pending legislation affecting Freddie Mac."
But independent sources, and a statement put out by the Gingrich campaign in November, pointed out that the agency "was interested in advice on how to reach out to more conservatives."
What this means is Freddie Mac wanted to meet with key conservative members of Congress to make their own case about how the agency was dealing with its debts and digging out of the massive subprime mortgage hole at the taxpayers' expense.
Notably, during his work at Freddie Mac, Gingrich dealt dealt directly with agency's chief lobbyist, Craig Thomas, who was identified as "project director" in Gingrich's contract. In other words, he was working for the agency's lobbying shop.